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It’s no secret that there have been massive shifts in the U.S. manufacturing sector over the past few decades, with the globalization of the economy sometimes resulting in the loss of entire industries that once formed the backbone of our middle class.
One of the biggest problems facing our remaining manufacturing firms is workforce development. Put simply, workers are no longer receiving the kinds of training they need to fill the positions in those industries. Many public high schools no longer offer the kinds of vocational classes that traditionally provided students with the opportunities to gain hands-on experience in those fields.
Furthermore, there is high anticipated demand for such workers due to pending retirements. Those particular positions will be for industrial machinery mechanics, maintenance and repair workers, specialty welders, production supervisors and operating workers.
In response to those issues, the Legislature recently approved additional funding for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center (OMIC), a project aimed at bolstering the state’s capacity to train the next generation of workers in manufacturing and other related industries. It involves partnerships with private industry, as well as higher educational institutions like the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT).
OMIC is modeled after the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in England. The purpose of that venture was to unite university researchers and private industry to advance new materials and manufacturing techniques. It is hoped that by approving and advancing this project, we will be able to duplicate the kinds of success that the center in England has produced.
Plans for the project are for the OMIC to be located at two facilities in Scappoose. The reason Scappoose was selected as the site was because of its proximity to Boeing’s operations in the area. Both properties are also within one mile of each other and adjacent to the Scappoose Airport.
One facility is intended to be for research and development, and the other will be a training facility. The research and development facility will be located in a 34,500 square foot building on a ten-acre property. OIT will own the research and development center on the state’s behalf and operate it as a nonprofit corporation. As part of those efforts, OIT will have three to five applied research and teaching faculty specializing in mechanical and manufacturing engineering at that location. Additional equipment and faculty will be allocated by Oregon State University and Portland State University.
A 25,000 square foot training facility will be located on a 20-acre property, and will be owned and operated by Portland Community College (PCC). That school is planning to use it for two Registered Apprenticeship programs, which will consist of machine manufacturing technology and welding in the first year. An anticipated 240 apprentice slots will be created over five years, and the training apprenticeship program will focus on targeted populations. They include populations that are currently underrepresented in advanced manufacturing, adult job seekers from public workforce programs and high school students enrolled in career and technical education classes.
It is expected that the property purchase will be completed in November, with construction to commence next summer and a tentative opening scheduled for the fall of 2018.
While this project on its own won’t solve all the challenges facing our manufacturing sector or our workforce, the hope is that it will bring Oregon, its employers and its workers one step closer to the kind of vibrant economy we would like to see. It has the potential to help create and retain private sector jobs that will contribute to the state’s tax base and ensure that our most vital public services are adequately funded.
For more information on OMIC, click here.
Representative Gail Whitsett
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